Two local men convicted in unrelated sex crime cases were sentenced at the Bannock County Courthouse last week to serve lengthy prison terms for sexually abusing underage girls.
During hearings at the courthouse in Pocatello, Lorin Lee Weeks, 45, of Downey, was sentenced to serve a fixed term of 18 years in prison before he is eligible for parole. Judge Rick Carnaroli also imposed an indeterminate prison sentence of life in prison, which means Weeks could spend the rest of his life incarcerated if the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole opts to not grant Weeks parole after serving the minimum sentence of 18 years.
Carnaroli also sentenced Zachary Aaron Welcher, 42, of Pocatello, to a unified sentence of 17 years in prison, of which Welcher must serve a minimum of 10 years before being eligible for parole.
Welcher pleaded guilty to one felony count of rape in June. Weeks pleaded guilty to one count of lewd conduct with a child under 16 and one count of kidnapping in the second degree, both felonies, in July.
Carnaroli also sentenced Weeks to an 18-year fixed prison term on the second-degree kidnapping charge, but ordered the sentence to run concurrent with the lewd conduct sentence of 18 years.
Weeks pleaded guilty to raping a 15-year-old girl, kidnapping her and then forcing her to get an abortion. He was criminally charged after a 14-year-old sister of the victim told her mother in April 2018 about Weeks’ sexual abuse and the mother contacted police, according to police records.
The 14-year-old told police that Weeks had been sexually abusing her 15-year-old sister since at least October 2017 and that Weeks referred to the victim as his “girlfriend,” police said.
The 14-year-old sister told police that she had been in a relationship with Weeks’ son. But once it was discovered that her 15-year-old sister was pregnant with Weeks’ child, Weeks made his son break-up with the 14-year-old girl so that his son could claim responsibility for impregnating the 15-year-old, police said.
In May 2018, Weeks traveled with family members and the 15-year-old girl to Washington state to visit his relatives there. During the “family vacation,” Weeks took the 15-year-old girl to get an abortion at a clinic in Portland, Oregon, that does not require that a minor provide parental consent for the procedure, police said.
The family of the alleged victim had no idea where the 15-year-old girl was during this time, police said.
On May 17, 2018, police executed a search warrant at Weeks’ home in Downey where the 15-year-old girl was discovered hiding under Weeks’ bed.
Weeks was arrested and subsequently charged with rape, lewd conduct and kidnapping. Bannock County prosecutors dropped the rape charge against Weeks as part of a plea arrangement with him.
Weeks had originally pleaded guilty to the lewd conduct and kidnapping charges in November and received a combined fixed sentence of 25 years in prison for both charges. However, a technicality resulted in that sentence being suspended and a new sentence being handed down by Carnaroli last week.
Regarding his unrelated sex crime, Welcher was charged with one count of felony rape in January after local authorities received anonymous reports he was having sex with a 16-year-old girl, police said.
Police observed an interview between the 16-year-old girl and a licensed sexual abuse counselor in Pocatello in May 2018, during which the girl said she and Welcher were in a romantic relationship that involved the pair engaging in consensual sex numerous times during a period lasting approximately one year.
The 16-year-old girl told the counselor that her relationship with Welcher began while they both worked at a Pocatello restaurant. Welcher was the girl’s supervisor and had given her multiple rides home from work and started texting the girl before the relationship became sexual, police said.
Police interviewed Welcher in May 2018. Initially, Welcher told police that it was his girlfriend who was texting the 16-year-old girl, police said. When police told Welcher they planned to question his girlfriend, he told police that it was possibly his 2-year-old child that was texting the 16-year-old girl.
Welcher continued to deny during his interview with police that he ever engaged in sexual activity with the 16-year-old girl and he eventually walked out of the interview.
Several months passed before the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office filed the rape charge in early January of this year against Welcher and he was arrested on Jan. 9. Welcher was released from Bannock County Jail on his own recognizance on Jan. 10.
After he pleaded guilty to the charge in June, Welcher failed to appear for a court-ordered psychosexual evaluation in August and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested again a week later and remained incarcerated until he was sentenced last week.
Bannock County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Zach Parris handled both cases. He told the Idaho State Journal last week that the sentences for both offenders were more than fair, adding that he hopes the punishment imposed by Carnaroli sends a message to adults who think it’s OK to have sexual contact with children.
“I think the judge did a good job considering all the facts and circumstances involved with both of these cases,” Parris said. “They were both relatively egregious because we had defendants in their ’40s who were having sex with 15- and 16-year-old girls for an extended period of time.”
Parris continued, “I think the judge is sending a message to the public that says if grown men think it’s OK to go out and have sex with teenage children, there is going to be a heavy price to pay.”